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Troop vs. troupe

As a noun, troop means (1) a group of people, animals or things, (2)  a group of soldiers, or (3) a great many. As a verb, it means to move in a group or as a crowd. The meaning of troupe is much narrower. It denotes a company or group of actors, singers, or dancers.  Examples These writers use troop correctly: Not all troops and troop leaders, however, welcomed the Colorado decision. [Huffington Post] Thousands of Minnesota soldiers are preparing for the state's second largest troop … [Read more...]

Client vs. customer

The nouns client and customer are sometimes used interchangeably---especially by businesses seeking to show customers extra respect by referring to them as "clients"---but the words differ in their conventional definitions. Client A client is someone who engages the services of a professional. For example, lawyers, plumbers, freelance writers, accountants, and web designers often work for clients. So these writers use the word well: Provincial court Judge Brian Stevenson agreed with defence … [Read more...]

Illegible vs. unreadable

Although the adjectives illegible and unreadable both refer to texts that can't be read, their conventional uses are different. Illegible refers to texts that can't be read due to bad handwriting, physical deterioration, or any other issue that makes the words difficult to decipher. So these writers use illegible in the conventional sense: Have you ever noticed that 'creative types' seem to have a similar handwriting; doctors, their illegible scrawl; mathematicians, their small and steady … [Read more...]

Criteria, criterion

Traditionally, criteria is plural, and criterion is singular. These reflect the Latin forms. Although most dictionaries and usage authorities still make this distinction, criterion is likely to go the way of datum and agendum (which are only used by small groups of English speakers). That is, criterion will become rarer and rarer, while criteria will become the singular form (with criterias perhaps emerging as the plural). Already this is happening. In current news publications and popular … [Read more...]

Precede vs. proceed

To precede is to go before, to be in front of, or to preface. Proceed, by far the more common of the two words, means to go forward, to continue, or to carry on. The words aren't homophones, but their similarity in sound (and sometimes in meaning) makes them easy to confuse with each other in some contexts. Examples Precede Thought precedes words, words precede deeds. [Guardian] Depression is a robust predictor of stroke, even independently of memory impairments that might precede a … [Read more...]

Ad hoc

Ad hoc, a loanword from Latin (where it means, literally, to this), means for this specific purpose. It usually functions as an adjective preceding the noun it modifies---for example: Every inch of green grass outside the mall had been transformed into ad hoc parking lots. [Dallas Morning News] An ad hoc committee voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend the city implement cell phone restrictions in school zones. [Amarillo Globe-News] Bagley is the chief transportation planner for … [Read more...]

Wary vs. weary

To be wary is (1) to be on guard against something, or (2) to be watchful or cautious. Weary means physically or mentally fatigued. It's a synonym of tired. Examples Partygoers should be wary of the legal and health implications of using the ecstasy-like designer drug known as "meow meow" despite it not being listed as a controlled drug in Victoria. [The Age] For the 39th year, the Minneapolis Boat Show is sparking dreams of summer among Minnesotans weary of winter. [KSTP.com] But one is … [Read more...]

Upmost vs. utmost

When you need an adjective meaning (1) of the highest or greatest degree or (2) most extreme, the word is utmost. When you need an adjective meaning situated at the top, highest, or most upward position, the word you're looking for is upmost. The latter is an old, almost archaic word that now mostly appears where writers obviously mean utmost. Examples Utmost Clearly, the Panthers are doing their utmost to entice people to visit the rink. [Regina Leader-Post] You can feel that the … [Read more...]

Wagon vs. waggon

Wagon and waggon are different spellings of the same word meaning, among other things, a sturdy four-wheeled vehicle for transporting things. Waggon was preferred in British English until a century ago,1 and it still appears occasionally, but it is fast becoming archaic. In this century, the shorter one is preferred in all main varieties of English. This ngram, which graphs the use of wagon and waggon in a large number of British texts published from 1800 to 2000, shows waggon's decline … [Read more...]

Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic

Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic means making well-meaning but negligible adjustments to an endeavor that is doomed to fail. It is a useful phrase, but it has been overused.  The expression goes back at least three decades (the earliest example we could find is from 1975), but its use has picked up sharply during the last few years. You know an expression has worn out its welcome when politicians take to it---for example: Palin derided the GOP "establishment" and accused them of … [Read more...]

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